Fulton school board approves new building for Conley Hills Elementary

The Fulton County Board of Education is deciding the fate of Conley Hills Elementary School in East Point. (Fulton Schools photo)
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The Fulton County Board of Education is deciding the fate of Conley Hills Elementary School in East Point. (Fulton Schools photo)

A divided Fulton County Board of Education agreed to replace an East Point elementary school with a new building, a decision that strayed from the superintendent’s recommendation.

The board voted 5-2 Thursday to construct a new Conley Hills Elementary School about 1.5 miles west of the current site.

The decision went against the advice of Superintendent Mike Looney. He recommended instead that the district renovate a nearby middle school into a kindergarten through eighth grade campus that would serve students from Conley Hills.

But the majority of board members rebuffed that concept, saying their vote reflected residents’ desires and fulfilled a years-old pledge to build a new elementary school in East Point.

“The community believes that they were promised a K-5 and that we should deliver that to them,” said the board’s vice president Kimberly Dove, whose district includes Conley Hills.

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Board members Katie Reeves and Linda McCain backed the superintendent’s K-8 plan and voted against building a new elementary school.

“I can’t believe we are going to go against his recommendation, which is in my opinion best for kids, and we are going to do it because there are adults who want something different,” McCain said.

For years the district has discussed what to do with Conley Hills, a school that enrolled 488 students last year. The building dates to the 1950s and its condition is rated as “very poor,” according to district documents.

Fulton budgeted $44.3 million to replace the school and included the project in a capital plan approved about five years ago.

District officials said the current site is too small and the topography too challenging to construct a new school on.

Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney's recommendation was not followed by the board of education, which opted to replace East Point elementary school with a new building. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
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Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney's recommendation was not followed by the board of education, which opted to replace East Point elementary school with a new building. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Looney advised board members to take this opportunity to combine the elementary with the nearby Paul D. West Middle School, creating a K-8 school. Administrators said research shows academic and social benefits for students who are able to remain at the same campus for their elementary and middle school years.

They said the K-8 model is shown to reduce disciplinary infractions, boost parent engagement and make it easier for students to transition from one grade level to the next.

But community members have opposed that concept. In recent meetings, they’ve said they don’t want to be the district’s test-case for a new model. They also expressed concerns about having very young students and older middle schoolers with different needs sharing the same campus.

The board-approved plan will require the purchase of about 24 acres at 2605 Ben Hill Road in East Point. District officials identified that site as the only suitable nearby property to build a new school.

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The site previously was the home of the former Atlanta Christian College. It is now owned by AUC Institute For Career Studies, Inc., according to Fulton County property records. The district offered $6.8 million for the property, above the $3.9 million it sold for in 2019.

Thursday’s vote authorizes the district to continue to negotiate in good faith to purchase the property. The district also could pursue acquiring the property through eminent domain, a process that requires a public hearing and other legal steps.

Before the vote, Looney anticipated his K-8 recommendation may prove unpopular. After the board rejected his proposal, he pledged to work whole-heartedly to construct the new elementary building.

“I will do my utmost to give that school all the support that they need,” he said.